Afghanistan to hold elections in July next year

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan will hold long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections on July 7, 2018, some three years after they were meant to take place, the country’s Independent Election Commission said on Thursday.

Najibullah Ahmadzai, chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), announced the date at a news conference in Kabul. He said the success of the polls would depend on proper funding and security.

“The government has the responsibility to prepare the budget. Security of the election will be the responsibility of the government and security agencies,” he said.

Preparations for the polls were hit by infighting within a government struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency.

Parliamentary and council elections have been a headache ever since a disputed 2014 presidential vote that saw the creation of a national unity government led by former rivals President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

There have been disagreements between the Ghani and Abdullah camps and issues around voter registration, electoral fraud and security.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul and the United Nations both welcomed the decision on the new election date, which comes at a time of growing political and ethnic tensions.

“The people of Afghanistan have made clear their desire for credible, inclusive elections,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“We welcome the IEC’s commitment to a realistic date for holding parliamentary and district council elections, and to an improved and transparent electoral process,” he said.

The current parliament’s five-year mandate ended in June 2015 but, amid worries over security and disputes over how to hold a fair vote, the president issued a decree extending its term until new elections could be held.

Reporting by James Mackenzie and Hamid Shalizi; editing by Andrew Roche